Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The View From The Top (Part III)

Awhile back, I shared a mountaintop experience I had one Sunday afternoon several weeks ago, along with some of my closest in our Singles group at my church. We climbed Pinnacle Mountain, right here in Little Rock, together, on the last weekend in October.

The second weekend of November, we had yet another mountaintop experience together! We'd planned a camping trip to Petit Jean Mountain, near Morrillton, AR. It's a beautiful state park, with campgrounds, cabins, and a lodge at the top of the mountain, and beautiful trails to hike. The most popular one is the Cedar Falls Trail, which leads you on a hike of just over a mile, down the mountain, to a beautiful waterfall.

Over the past couple of years since I've been in my singles group, we've had a tradition of going on a type of camping retreat, where we stay in a nice lodge, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to do. We usually go the second weekend in February. But this is the first time we've ever gone any type of outdoor camping trip together! It was exciting and eventful, and once again, I had some opportunity to learn quite a bit about some of my favorite passages of scripture!!!

My friend Jennifer, who climbed with me to the top of Pinnacle, was also the one I was privileged to ride up to Petit Jean with! When we arrived on Friday evening, it was about 8:30 or 9:00, so it was already very dark out. A few others had arrived early and set up several tents, and several others had arrived later than that and were still gone to eat dinner at the lodge when we showed up. As Jennifer and I got there, the others arrived back from dinner, and one more guy showed up, we realized that we would need one more tent set up, in order to sleep everyone comfortably.

As we worked to put up this last tent, (did I mention that it was very dark?) several of us pitched in and helped, although each of us had different jobs. A few of the guys...Stephen, Shane, Don, Bill...they actually put the tent together. A few of us girls...Cynthia, Jennifer, and myself...we held onto the flashlights & directions. I can't speak for the rest of the girls, but I know that I, myself, would've had quite a time trying to actually put the tent up myself. Without the help of the guys, I wouldn't have had a tent to sleep in. The guys, on the other hand, would've had quite a time trying to put up a tent in the dark. Without the assistance of flashlight-holders, instruction-readers, and flashlight-holders for the instruction-readers (because it was windy enought that the person holding the directions needed both hands to hold them still!), the guys would not have been able to assemble the tent. As we accepted our roles and worked together to achieve a common goal, we were successful...together!

I couldn't help but be reminded of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, in which he describes the importance of diversity in the body. He writes, "But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."

When we had completed the task of assembling that last tent, we spent some time just sitting around a campfire, telling stories, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company. We sat out there till well past midnight...I believe it was closer to 1:00 a.m. when I went to sleep. Or, I guess, more accurately, it was closer to 1:00 a.m. when I went to my tent, for I had quite a bit of difficulty falling asleep. Let me remind you that we were camping out side in the middle of NOVEMBER!!! (However, I guess that doesn't always mean much...after all, two weeks ago last Tuesday, we had ice on the ground, then by the following Friday, it was a balmy 70 degrees. The following Tuesday, there was a tiny bit more ice on the ground...only to be followed this past Friday by temps that reached a balmy 75 degrees...and that in the middle of DECEMBER!!!) Regardless...we were a little bit late in planning a camping trip. We started talking about it in August, so by the time it was finalized and there was an available weekend, it had to be November. Unfortunately, a cold front moved in a little bit early, and the temps dropped down to about 34 degrees overnight, not to mention the fact that it was VERY windy all weekend. The next day it only warmed up to about 55 or so, before dropping back down to the mid 30s again.

As I lay in my tent, fully clothed in socks, pants, a couple of shirts, a hooded sweatshirt and gloves, underneath 3 large blankets, I had difficulty keeping warm. It was definitely a tossing-and-turning kind of night. One of the many times I woke up in the middle of the night, it was shortly after 5:00 a.m., and I needed to use the bathroom. I fought the need to go with the desire to stay in my tent, underneath my 3 blankets (what little good they were doing), rather than getting out into the cold, windy dark of night to walk to the restrooms. But my bladder won out, so I left my tent around 5:15 or so. I returned around 5:45. No, I did not fall in. There was just heat, blessed heat, in the restrooms! My tent was cold. The bathroom was warm. So I stayed in there awhile.

Needless to say, that evening I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite passages from Ecclesiastes, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" This Teacher knew what he was talking about...because I am here to tell you that it was VERY cold, lying there alone.

The next morning, however, was when I had one of my favorite experiences, which reminded me, once again, of my favorite passage of scripture! It was such a small, seemingly meaningless moment, but I still think about this metaphor from time to time, and how it applies to my spiritual life. After eating a breakfast, we went over to the lodge, which is where most of the hiking trails branch off from. That morning, we hiked a shorter, easier trail. It was only about a half mile or so, I guess, over to the Bear Caves. There's no actual cave, but rather, some very large rock formations that could provide some sort of shelter. You can wander through them and even climb up them--though I preferred to keep my feet on the ground! It was a GREAT experience that morning, and a lot of fun, to stay on the ground and take pictures and cheer for my friends as they climbed to the top! However, as we were walking over there, it was still pretty early in the morning. The trail was pretty easy to follow, with some rocks as steps. But the ground was still wet, and since it was fall, there were leaves all over the ground. As we hiked, I tended to follow, staying close to the back of the group. It was easier for me, to be able to follow in someone else's be able to see from where they had been whether or not a rock was going to be wobbly, or if wet leaves would be slippery. At one point, even, there was a large step down off of a rock. As I approached it and hesitated, my friend Michael, who had just crossed this very tiny creek-like area of the path, offered his hand to help me down that large step. At that point, it hit me...

I've known for awhile now that Hebrews is my favorite book, and there are many reasons for that. However, even within that amazing book, my favorite passage of scripture is where the Faith Hall of Fame comes to an end at the beginning of chapter 12, with the instruction and encouragement to continue on, running with perseverance the race marked out for us, as we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

At that point, it hit me...I was, in a way, living out this experience. I was getting to learn, first-hand, the comfort of being able to follow in the footsteps of one, just like me, who has gone on before. At the same time, I was able to be surrounded by people who were willing to help if necessary. There is an incredible amount of strength to persevere, that can be gained from just being able to see that someone else has been able to do it too...they've gone through the same things I'm going through, and they were successful, and I've got their example to follow to help me on my way. That's why I love Hebrews 11-12, and gain so much comfort and encouragement from it.

However, it leaves me with a question, as I close this series of mountain-top experiences. I think of people like Gideon, who asked the Lord for the signs with the fleece...he just wanted to see those things done. Or I think of people like Thomas, who just wanted to see the risen Lord, and put his hands in the scars, then he would believe. The Lord grants Gideon's requests. And He grants Thomas' request, but then He tells him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

It just makes me being that person that just wants to see...what blessing might I be missing out on?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Time!!!

Christmas Time is HERE!!!

One of my favorite things about the season is all the Christmas music!

Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls are okay, but my FAVORITE songs, of course, are the ones that speak of the birth of our Lord, our Immanuel.

My absolute favorites are "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Joy to the World", and "O Holy Night"; however, this season, I'm also becoming a little partial to "Angels We Have Heard On High" and Casting Crowns' version of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

In honor of the season, and my love for Christmas songs, I thought this little game was fun! Take a stab at it!

1. The apartment of 2 psychiatrists.

2. Sir Lancelot with laryngitis.

3. A B C D E F G H I J K M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z.

4. Present me naught but dual incisors for this festive Yuletide.

5. The smog-less bewitching hour arrived.

6. 288 Yuletide hours.

7. Do you perceive the same longitudinal pressure which stimulates my auditory sense organs.

8. Stepping on the pad cover.

9. Uncouth dolt has his beezer in the booze and thinks he is a Dark Cloud's boyfriend.

10. Behold! I envisioned a trio of nautical vessels.

11. A joyful song relative to hollow metallic vessels which vibrate and bring forth a ringing sound
when struck.

12. As the guardians of little woolly animal's protected their charges in the shadows of the earth.

13. Frozen precipitation commence

14. Oh, member of the round table with missing areas

15. Boulder of the tinkling metal spheres

16. Vehicular homicide was committed on Dad's mom by a precipitous darling

17. Cup-shaped instruments fashioned of a whitish metallic element

18. Our fervent hope is that you thoroughly enjoy your yuletide season

19. Parent was observed osculating a red-coated unshaven teamster

20. Natal celebration devoid of color, rather albino, as a hallucinatory phenomenon for me.

21. Obese personification fabricated of compressed mounds of minute crystals.

22. Tranquiltiy upon the terrestrial sphere.

23. Have hitherward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief.

24. Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds.

25. An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good given to the terrestrial sphere.

26. Embellish the entryways.

27. Twelve o'clock on a clement night witnessed its arrival.

28. The Christmas preceding all others.

29. Small municipality in Judea southeast of Jerusalem.

30. Diminutive, masculine master of skin covered percussionist cylinders.

31. Omnipotent supreme being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males.

32. Tranquility upon the terrestrial sphere.

33. Expectation of arrival to populated areas by mythical, masculine perennial gift giver.

34. Natal celebration devoid of color, rather albino, as a hallucinatory phenomenon for me.

35. The first person nominative plural of far eastern heads of state.

36. Tintinnabulation of vacillating pendulous in inverted, metallic .

37. In distant location the existence of an improvised unit of newborn children's slumber furniture.

38. Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological alpine formation

Post your answers in the comments--good luck!!! I might even throw in an Amazon gift card for the first person to get them all right...if you're still reading this now!!!!! But NO CHEATING!!! ;)

Oh come, let us adore Him...for He alone is worthy!!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Ask and ye shall receive..."

Or is it more like, "Be careful what you wish for!"???

Less than two days ago...on Sunday evening before church began, I was talking to the guy sitting in front of me, a friend of mine who is originally from Michigan. I told him I was disappointed that it didn't feel like December. It was 65 degrees outside, and although I'd brought my jacket with me to church, I didn't need it.
After what I woke up to this morning, you should've seen me trying to even get to the door of my car on the sheet of ice that was on the ground! I called in to work...they suggested that I wait a little while...and perhaps they can send someone to come get me, if I'm still not comfortable driving on that sheet of ice. Which I might not be...since I live on top of a freakin' mountain!!!.
I just hope I don't slide down the hill on my way in to work!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Prayer For Brent...The Rest of the Story

Right at a year ago, I left a post on my blog by that title, "Prayer for Brent"

It was a short post, not a lot of information...just a sincere plea for prayer on behalf of someone I knew from church.

Well, now, a year later, I'm here to tell you the rest of his story. (Before I get too far into this, I feel like it should be noted somewhere that I did not know Brent well before this accident. We were more like acquaintances rather than friends. I'm still not sure it's accurate to say that we know each other well. We FB chat occasionally now, and that's more interaction than I had with him before, when he was here in Little Rock. But that doesn't change the fact that he's my brother, and I've had the privilege of praying for him, lifting his name up to our Father, and that his circumstances have had an impact on me personally. That's why I feel the need to tell you the rest of his story.)

It was a year ago today, Saturday, December 8, 2007 that Brent had his motorcycle accident that landed him in the ICU at UAMS. His injuries were extensive. I guess we'll just go from head to toe: he had bleeding on his brain, a broken an eye socket, broken shoulder blades, a broken right shoulder, a completely shattered left shoulder (it had to be reconstructed), a broken sternum, 11 broken ribs, a lung that collapsed (more than once), a broken get the picture. The most difficult injury, though, was the fact that his back was broken.

For the first three days after Brent's accident, he was medically sedated. Doctors said that he needed to make it through those first critical 72 hours before surgery could be done to assess the damage to his spinal cord. Right about the time that Brent hit that 72-hour time frame, on Tuesday afternoon, an operating room opened up, and the surgeon and a team of nurses were available for the several hours necessary to perform the surgery.

Usually on Tuesday evenings, a small group of girls from my singles class meets for a time of Bible study and prayer. But that Tuesday evening we decided to go be with Brent's parents while he was still in surgery. There were several from my church gathered there that evening to pray for Brent. When there got to be about 20 or so of us, we decided to leave the waiting room and go downstairs to the chapel to pray for him. Two guys from our group volunteered to stay there in the waiting room in case the doctors came out of the surgery or anyone else came up to be with Brent's family, and the rest of us headed downstairs.

As we were standing out in the hallway, waiting on the elevators, the doctors came out of the surgery with the news. It wasn't good. Brent's parents stepped away to speak with the doctors. They stepped back over to us and his dad told us what the doctor said, that "For all practical purposes, Brent's spinal cord is severed. There are just a few small fibers at the front of it that are still attached. But for all intents and purposes, his spinal cord is severed and he will more than likely be paralyzed from the waist down." I think they said they'd asked the doctor if he'd ever seen anyone recover from an injury that extensive. He said never.

Then Brent's dad said one of the most amazing things. After delivering us that news, he continued with, "I think we need to go on down to the chapel. We need to pray to God, and we need to praise Him, and we need to thank Him that we still have Brent." And so we did, though it was not necessarily easy. We prayed, and we cried out to God, both in thanks that Brent was alive and yet in such hurt because of the news we'd received about his injuries.

When I got home that evening, I came across the blog of another member of my church, and the post he had written. In a blog entitled "What Isn't The Gospel?" brother Keith wrote,

"What isn't the gospel? What are the things that no one in his or her right mind and heart would be likely to put in the comments of the previous blog post as the gospel according to them; the good news of scripture; the core message of God's Word to man? Tonight, a young man from my church has found out that his spinal cord was severed in the dirt bike accident he had last weekend. That is not the gospel. Yet his church family continues to pray for and over this young man; will conduct a blood drive Sunday in his behalf; and some will fast and some will attend his bedside and some will plead with God on their knees, not knowing him well but loving him as if there were an empty place at their kitchen table that only he could fill. Why?"
Upon reading this post, I was once again filled with tears for my brother Brent and I commented to that effect on Keith's blog...that I was saddened by this news for him, but also, that I'd been blessed by the prayers that were offered up on his behalf that evening. I wrote,

"I'm sorry, Keith. As I read this blog through blurred, tear-filled eyes, I just don't have it in me tonight to go in that direction...I've had enough bad news for the evening...It can be scary to love the God who is do so requires TRUST. It requires of us the same type of reaction to the things that we don't understand as I witnessed tonight from the father of that young man. We were standing in front of the elevators, waiting to go down to the chapel to petition God on his behalf, when the doctor came out of surgery w/the news. His dad said, "I think we need to go and pray; we need to praise God and thank Him that we still have him with us." It requires of us a trust and a faith that says, "God can see better than us," and, "I know there is going to be something good to come out of all of this. I don't know that it is yet, but I KNOW it," and, "We are concerned with the physical and the things that we want physically, but God is concerned with the spiritual," and, Lord, even though it's hard to comprehend, we know that you love him more than we do," and finally, "Lord, we don't know why all of this has happened...but we know that we love You."
Those were the prayers I heard and prayed that evening. There was also a prayer that I did not hear but only heard about. I was told that one of our Shepherds of our church, in a prayer he was leading at the hospital one night, said something to the effect of, "Lord, you knit him together in His mother's womb, and you can do it again."

That one's stayed with me a LONG time. There's no telling how many times I've prayed that for Brent and continue to do so, to this day. In fact, that's my favorite thing to pray for him, because it gives me so much hope by reminding of me of what my God can do and is doing for Brent.

That's right, I said what my God IS doing for Brent...because Brent IS recovering from this spinal cord injury. See...I'll tell you what Brent would tell you...the thing is, people recover from spinal cord injuries all the time.

But people recover from COMPLETE spinal cord injures...well, almost, less than 1% of the time! Twice now, though, Brent's injury has been upgraded from being a complete injury (which is what he was first diagnosed as after that first surgery) to being an incomplete injury. Spinal cord injures are measured on a scale from A to E, A being completely injured and E being completely normal. Although originally diagnosed as an "A" injury, Brent very gradually began feeling some return in his hips and his legs, and he is now considered a "C" as he said, he's "halfway there!" He's gone to stay at his parents' home in Florida while he recovers, and has had the opportunity to spent some time in therapy at the Shepherds Institute in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord injuries. And despite the fact that doctors and therapists originally told him that he would never walk again, Brent is now walking in braces and with a walker, and he only continues to improve.

One of the things that makes Brent's story incredible is the impact that he's had on those around him and on those across the world. In a way, his accident brought a sense of revival to our singles group as a whole. It brought some of us together as friends who had not known each other previously. It gave us all a renewed dedication to the discipline of and the power of prayer. Also, after his accident, his parents started his blog, which Brent took over and began writing on as soon as he was able. People all over the nation and even from different parts of the world have read his blog and commented on it.

What makes his story the most incredible for me is just the fact that when I see him or talk to him, I get to see or talk to a living, breathing answer to answer to my own prayers and the prayers of so many others. And I did get to see him this weekend, as Brent came to be in Little Rock and to speak to our Singles class on this, the anniversary weekend of his accident. As I see him, and as I pray for him, I can picture the Great Physician slowly working, slowly knitting and mending his spinal cord back together...for no other reason than because He loves us and because we've asked Him to. But He does it in His time. If He did it in my time, Brent would've walked out of UAMS months ago. But He is God and i am not. Nevertheless, Brent is slowly learning to walk again. It only broke my heart a little bit that I didn't get to see it this weekend--only because I want so desperately to see it. Soon!

So now, I once again ask you to join me in prayer for Brent. This time, though, I ask you to join me in continuous praise to our Almighty God and Great Physician, our Father and Friend, for the healing He has brought to and will bring to our brother Brent. Be sure, also, to thank Him for using Brent in such a powerful way to reach so many people.

I'll leave you with this passage of scripture--a passage that expresses the light of hope in the midst of suffering--which was posted to Brent's blog that Tuesday night after Brent's first surgery. The prophet Jeremiah wrote,

"For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." -Lamentations 3:31-33

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The View From the Top (Part II)

In my previous post, I took the privilege of telling you about the wonderful opportunites I have to spend with some of the greatest friends in the world. There have been a couple of experiences here lately, though, that I felt especially worth sharing.

One came just over a month ago, from a friend who actually is not even a member of my church. But she's young and single, and she was an acquaintance of one of the more active members of my singles group, who invited her to hang out with us one Friday night this past summer. Now, although she doesn't worship with us on Sundays, she comes to hang out with us on Fridays...and she comes to our Wednesday night class...and she comes to our Girls' Prayer Group on Tuesdays. She's an incredible person with a sincere desire to serve the Lord, and that's always refreshing! Well...several weeks ago, she sent out a casual Facebook invite to several people, "Who's up for climbing Pinnacle this coming Sunday afternoon???"

Pinnacle Mountain is an over-1,000 ft. peak just west of Little Rock, that overlooks the Arkansas River Valley. It's not an incredibly difficult climb, but I'd never done it before, and honestly didn't know much about it. That was okay, though, because this friend tried to describe the hike to me and reassured me with, "Oh, you won't, like, fall of the mountain or anything, I don't think." That thought was extremely comforting.

Early in the afternoon before we went, I took a moment to look up Brother Keith's old article, that I remembered he had written about taking his children there. I was just trying to find out as much info as possible before the hike. Besides being entertaining and some of his best writing, Keith's article was very helpful, by informing that there was a water fountain at the base of the trail, that the trail was 1-1/2 miles, that it was divided by 10 distance markers, and that at about the number 8, there was some hand & foot climbing that would be necessary.

We planned to meet at the mountain at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon. When I arrived, there were about eight other people from my singles group. As we walked from the parking lot to the base of the mountain, I found out that there were 3 or 4 others from my singles group, including my singles minister, who were already there and had been hiking for awhile already. Some in my group split off and went with some of them, others stayed with us but hiked a little bit faster. I preferred to go at a more leisurely pace. A couple of girls went all the way up to about the Number 8 distance marker, where the boulders (and hand & foot climbing) begin, before turning around and leaving. And at that point, you're actually high enough that you can have a pretty decent view from there. So I can't say that I blame them.

However, I'd promised myself that I was gonna make it to the top. I may not be the most optimistic person in the world, but I was determined. I had my bottle of water with me, so I could have a drink whenever necessary. (It turned out to be about 10 degrees warmer that afternoon than it was the day before. That made a little bit of a difference in the climb.) I would stop and rest whenever necessary. One part of the hand & foot climbing did actually make me a little bit nervous, because there was a very flat, smooth, slick rock that I was on, with no foothold for me to climb further. I had to wait for some of the folks coming down to pass on by, so that I could slowly move sideways to another rock that I could climb on.

One friendly passerby offered a couple of helpful pieces of advice. He said, "Just remember the '3 points of contact' rule. Always keep three points of contact with the mountain--two feet and a hand, or a hand, a foot, and a butt--whatever you gotta use!" and, "Head towards the mountain...if you start to fall, it's easier to fall into the mountain than away from it!" He seemed to be a nice guy; if nothing else, he made me laugh, and that was good!

By the time I made it to the top, most of the rest of our group was already headed back down. It finally ended up being just me and this new friend (whose idea the hike was, in the first place!) that made it to the top together. We sat up there for about 45 minutes, and the view was incredible!

But besides the outstanding vista, I was able to make some other, even more breathtaking observations. The first of which is that I did not climb this mountain by myself. Most likely, I could not have climbed this mountain by myself. As badly as I wanted to make it to the top, I'm afraid I might have stopped, had it not been for my friend with her constant "You can do it!" and "We're almost there!" At one point she said, "We're almost there....I know I've been saying that for, like, the past 45 minutes!" I said, "I know...and you're a LIAR!" She laughed and said, "Yeah, but this time, we really ARE almost there!"

Secondly, I learned the importance of a foothold. As I was on the flat rock, with no good foothold, I was in a little bit scary position. I had absolutely no hope of making forward progress from that point. I had to find somewhere else to go in order to continue the climb. In Ephesians, the Bible speaks of letting the sun go down on your anger and giving the devil a foothold. It's a comforting thought, to know that by following Paul's instructions to the church in Ephesus, that I can put Satan in such a position where he will not have anywhere to go. He will have absolutely no hope of making forward progress in my life, at least at that point.

Finally, my absolute favorite book of the Bible is Hebrews. (There are many reasons why I love it...but that's another post entirely!) And my absolute favorite passasge is where the faith "hall of fame" comes to an end with, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." If nothing else, this climb up this mountain was, for me, an exercise in perseverance. It enabled me to learn a little bit more about going on when it's difficult and I don't really feel like going on anymore.

As we walked down the mountain together, it was starting to get a little bit late, and I realized that I would not be able to make it to church in time for my minister's 373rd sermon in his never-ending series on the book of Proverbs. But I told her, "That's okay. I'm growing a little weary of the Proverbs series. And I'm sure I've learned more about a couple of my favorite passages of scripture here, today, on this mountian, than I would have learned at church tonight."

I now agree with everyone else who's experienced the climb up Pinnacle. The view from the top really is incredible!
Ps. 36:5-9